If J.Z. George is going to snap an 11-game losing streak, it’s likely going to come on the able legs of talented sophomore Deriaun Townsend.
Townsend emerged as the Jaguars main rushing threat last season as a freshman and ended up with more than 500 yards rushing in just six games.
His efforts and potential landed him a spot on the Carroll Conservative/Winona Times Eleven To Watch for 2019. Already named to the list are An’Darius Coffey and Blake Cooper of Winona, Thomas Costilow and Hayden Self of Winona Christian, and Cory Clay of J.Z. George.
“He was forced into a role that he wasn’t ready for,” J.Z. George coach Ben Burton said. “He only played in like six games and ended up with more than 500 yards rushing. He dealt with some injuries early on and in the middle of the year. He was forced into a spot that he probably wasn’t ready for but I think he handled it pretty well. He’s a lot more ready for it this year than he was last year.”
Burton said that Townsend is a rare breed of student athlete.
“I’ve been doing this for 11 years and as far as kids that I have coached, I don’t think I’ve ever coached one with his work ethic and is as good in the classroom as he is on the field. As far as anybody I have ever coached, he wants to be the best he can be. He’s a rare breed of kid. He loves the game. I think barring something happening where he is not able to play, he will begin to pop up on some radars.”
Townsend is already 5-foot-11 and weighs 205 pounds. Burton said Townsend ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash this past winter and wouldn’t be surprised if he has dropped that time to the mid-4.5s. Not only is Townsend fast, but he’s strong in the weight room as well as he benches 265 pounds and squats 455.
“He’s a really strong kid,” Burton said. “A lot of times kids his age avoid the weight room. Right now, he is one of our stronger kids and he’s not even a sophomore yet. He’s still got three years to play and to work in the weight room. He had 152 yards rushing one game last year and he’s just gotten stronger and faster since then.”
Burton said the majority of the offense will be Townsend and fullback Jacob Johnson.
“Deriaun will be a prominent figure in our offense,” Burton said. “We will share the ball around. We’ve also got a good fullback in Jacob Johnson. Between those two, they will probably get about 85 percent of the touches. I have a receiver that will get some touches but I expect those two running backs to be the bread and butter for us.”
Burton said it didn’t take long to see that Townsend had some unique abilities when it comes to running the football.
“There are two things that he is really good at,” Burton said. “He has really good field vision. He can see things that a lot of other running backs don’t see. The second thing he is good at is from the time he makes his first step, he is at full speed. That’s very hard to coach.
“We are running the I on offense and it’s hard to find someone who is a true tailback, but Deriaun Townsend is that guy,” Burton said. “He’s a true tailback. He made his power step and he is full steam downhill. He’s one of the main reasons we are doing what we are doing. Neither one of the guys in the backfield is afraid to block for the other one, and neither of them are afraid to run the football downhill.”
While Townsend is making big strides in the weight room, there are some things that Burton said he does need to work on.
“One of the things that I keep telling him and it’s a maturity thing, is how he handles adversity,” Burton said. “He hasn’t handled adversity very well so far. He just can’t get down on himself if he drops a ball or doesn’t hit the hole like he wants. If we are going to be successful, he can’t get down on himself.”
Townsend actually played in two varsity games as an eighth grader so when he was forced into action last year, it wasn’t a big deal.
“I enjoyed it, it’s still football,” Townsend said. “I didn’t feel any pressure. I just tried to run as hard as I could. I actually played in two high school games as an eighth grader so I knew what to expect. I wasn’t expecting to start right away. I just tried to work and get better.”
Townsend said he makes straight As in the classroom and likes to read in his spare time. He said he hopes to get a scholarship to play college football and would like to do something in the travel industry.